I am always honored to be contacted by a member of the team at the Indianapolis Business Journal when they are putting an article together on the nonprofit sector because I believe that nonprofits typically receive more attention to bad news than to the amazing good that we do. This past weekend the IBJ did an extended article on an alternative or supplemental method of arts funding that many communities around the country have been using for years, a workplace giving and community campaign - think of it as a United Way™ for arts and culture. I was quoted as suggesting that something like this could be a possibility to help address the cutback in city funding for the arts while also raising visibility of our wide and varied arts community. Others were not so optimistic.
Since quotes rarely convey a perspective, I wanted to share my thoughts and would welcome your feedback.
I see it as an AND, not an OR, conversation. In order for Indianapolis to continue on its current track of becoming a world-class city, we will need to invest in arts and culture. That means finding both innovative and convenient ways to attract funds to both large and small arts and culture organizations. While looking to government or a tourism-related tax is one angle, it should not exclude other possibilities. Neither should looking to the Lilly Endowment for their next round of funding – it is hard to imagine our community without the commitment and investment of the Lilly Endowment, but they can’t be THE answer. The mention of a community effort like Fort Wayne Arts United or Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund is an opportunity to be open to new possibilities – especially since Plan A is losing $500K a year right now.
Some key points:
We must lift up United Way – an unintended consequence of this type of effort could be competition for the average wage earner with United Way’s annual fall campaign – which should be on everyone’s priority list right now. I have been a donor, supporter, and advocate for United Way for more than 25 years. I have run workplace campaigns and served as a Loaned Executive. They do amazing work around issues that are so much more complex than most of the community realizes.
Maybe new could be different – I remember attending campaign meetings, filling out pledge cards, collecting pledge cards and mailing them in for processing. Today, the web and giving portals open new possibilities for what a campaign could look like and how it might be run. We also have three of the longest running community campaigns in cities that are within two hours of us – they might entertain opportunities to leverage the infrastructures they have built just as our United Way has set a great collaborative tone in sharing technology resources across many of the larger community campaigns.
Every giver is a philanthropist - We too often get caught up in the million dollar gifts and naming efforts as “real philanthropy”. The IBJ writer used the unfortunate terminology of “cubicle drone” to refer to the masses of citizens across our community who actively support our sector through their charitable giving, volunteering, attendance at events and performances, etc. While it is certainly more efficient, in the short-term, to derive funding for the arts from a few sources, United Way has successfully shown that engaging the hundreds of thousands of everyday philanthropists like you and me is where you really begin to make an impact.
Thanks for listening,